Ben Hsu

Fantasy · Fiction · Short Story

The Darkness and The Light

I finally found her nailed to an oak.  It always amazes me what lengths humans will go through to torture one another.  Her blood and tears mixed together as they ran down her bare body, forming and reforming little rivulets, inlets and streams.  Near where the cold iron spikes drove themselves through her ankles and wrists the sap of the oak also mixed in, the whole concoction giving a slightly sweet smell, almost like glazed meat roasting.  As I approached I saw her pale frame shudder from her breathing, each breath more precious than the last, and every one an uphill struggle.

The pale moonlight shown through the limbs of the lone oak as I took one last look at it, its limbs creaking and moaning as the wind moved through them.  The tree was going to have to die I thought sadly.  Extending my claws I began to gouge the areas where the spikes imbedded themselves in the wood.  The sturdy, still living, timber crumbled like ash beneath my touch, its grainy unpolished splinters rubbing harmlessly against my fingers.  Once extracted I easily removed the stakes from her flesh without causing her further harm.

I laid her on the soft carpet of grass that surrounded that oak, and pressed my palm against her forehead, the flesh already beginning to become cold.  I placed my other hand on the coarse bark of the oak.    Then I closed my eyes and began my spell.  My kind can’t actually heal like the others can, forcing away wound, pain and infection like unwanted guests, but we know how to move things, and how to use our own bodies as conduits.  Soon, I felt her forehead grow warm, and heard her breathing come slow and easy.  At the same time I sensed the oak twisting and writhing as it took the burden, the tortured limbs groaning in pain, leaves falling like tears.  When it was over I opened my eyes and saw my ward fully healed and asleep, to my right the oak gave one final moan as its trunk split, spraying a fine shower of saw dust and splinters.

My spell let her live, but still left her weak and drained.  She awoke, a full two days later, on a raggedy straw stuffed mattress in bare and Spartan room.  Brushing a lock of flame red hair from her ice-blue eyes she scanned the surroundings, her gaze finally falling on my lanky form, in human guise, huddled in the corner.  “You saved me again,” her voice was soft as a dying breeze, and she shuddered.

Rising, I glided over to her and gently placed my torn and unraveling cloak over the thin, course rags I had found her.  I knew she didn’t expect any real answer from me, and I gave her none.  “Retic, how long…?”

“Almost two months,” I lied; she wasn’t ready for the truth, yet. 

She clasped then, and huddled inside my cloak, the efforts of her movements exhausting her, “This is the third time now.  Why, do you keep saving me?”

I grinned inwardly, I had long since lost track of the number of times this had happened, and it was only the last three times that I had bother to show myself to her, “Because, Siaya, I do not believe you deserve to die,” again I lied.  I began to head back to my corner of the room

“I wonder if this time you’ll stay with me,” her voice drifting off.

Suddenly, I stumbled over two boards that had failed to meet properly.  Silently blaming the fact I wasn’t used to my human body I threw my weight on my back foot to avoid falling and pivoted, groping for an answer to her question.  Fortunately, her breathing told me she was asleep, and I did not need to answer.  Finally, reaching my corner I squatted there, and leaned back against the walls, cherishing the old dusty smell that permeated the room and the feel of the solid, polished wood on my back as I wondered why I had even shown myself to her.

That night, as expected, the others came to me.  Three of them, appeared to me, nothing more than three white hot points of light, searing the back of my mind.  Every word thundered through the core of my being.  “You cannot hope to succeed”

“She was destined to die, it is her fate”

“You were almost too late last time, you cannot keep this up”

I refused to be intimidated, “My masters commanded me to protect her, and so I will.”

“You still serve the Fallen, foolish, do you even know what she is, what her death means?”

“Does it matter?  The fact that you want her dead is enough for us to protect her.”

“Her death is to cause the needed change.  She will save the humans by dying.”

Never was I happier that to be in this place between places, where only your words show what you are, “You mean bring the humans over to your side.  You’ve already won, you’ve taken everything from us, and still you want more,” no trace of my shock showed itself, I hoped.

“Still as ignorant as ever, our will cannot be stopped, you will fail.”

“If you are as powerfully as you claim, why don’t you just force the changes yourself?” That was the key, as powerful and arrogant as we were, both sides had to work through humanity to do anything lasting.  They choose not to respond and simply left.

I opened my eyes to see ghostly moonlight illuminating Siaya, still curled up in my cloak, on the lone mattress, the slight raising and falling of her chest the only indication of her life, the same one I was charged to protect.  I chuckled at the irony of it, the darkness struggling to save a life from the light.  As the dust floated through the moonlight, creating my own private performance I had to reflect.  When the war between darkness and light broke out I had not chosen my sides wisely, that is to say, the side that lost.  Now it was too late to go back, but still I had to wonder.  Perhaps the others were right, and it was better if she died.  I shook my head, no, I had my orders, and I would do my duty.  Unfolding my wings I wrapped myself in the warm leather to protect myself from the sudden chill.  I shouldn’t have given her my cloak.

My midnight blue cloak made a striking contrast to the dull tired grays and browns of the town square.  Despite her tiny frame it fit her well, and she moved easy in it.  Siaya was speaking again, and perched on the rooftops I couldn’t hear her, but I knew what she was saying, preaching of change, of rights and wrongs, good and evil.  A tiny blue speck, she moved with the flourish only a zealot could muster.  When all others had long since given to only going through the motions, she still believed.  Unfortunately, her only audience was a pair of city guards, their boiled leather armor matching their stern and discontented faces.  Those who need change won’t listen, and those who listen fight any change, I could tell trouble was approaching.

I had left her, it wasn’t my style to interfere with humanity like that, but I heeded the warning of the others and watched her closer than ever.  The last time I actually saw what happened.  Her ice blue eyes wide as tears filled them, her fail body limp and broken as they beat her over and over.  I followed them as they dumped her in a dust covered field for the crows to feast on.  Even though I would have found her there anyway, somehow it was different this time.  I could have stopped them, but that’s just not my style. 

The sudden movement of the two guards snapped me out of my reverie.  They were leaving, moving quickly, and I thought I knew where.  Leaping from roof to roof after them, like some perverted squirrel I finally dropped in front of them in a secluded alley.  When they saw me their pupils became tiny pin points in a wide pool of disbelief.  Fear caught in their throats as I tore them out, their thick sticky blood oozing through my fingers and covering the cold, uncaring stone walls surrounding us.  My duty is to keep her alive, it’s easier this way, I told myself.  Only the rats and shadows witnessed what happened, and nobody listens to them either.

Later, on a muddy well traveled road moving from one nameless town to another she confessed to me, “I think the people are beginning to accept me.”

The recent rain still hung in the air, a thick heavy smell.  Our feet squelched as they sank slowly in the gray-brown mud with each step.  I pretended to be interested in a passing peasant.  He wore a tunic stained with filth, and walked with slow measured steps and hunched back, knowing this was all life held for him, “Hmm?”

“It’s been such a long time since anyone’s demanded I stop, and I think it’s only a matter of time before people actually start listening.  I wonder if you have anything to do with it, Retic.”

She didn’t know how close she was to the truth.  After all that had happened she still believed, still had hope, it amazed me.  I couldn’t bring myself to tell her about the two men I had killed so long ago, or the countless people after that.  I silently plodded on in response.

That night proved to be quite busy for me.  She lay resting under a lone oak on a grassy knoll, so like the time before, yet so different.  I also lay back against the tree, letting it poke and prod me with its knots as it took my burden.  Ideally, I wondered whether anything else had taken root where the other oak died, and whether anyone missed it when it was gone. 

My masters came to me first, frozen shadows from the void, taking form where no form could be.  They spoke with the absence of words, leaving only a memory of what they had said echoing in my mind, “You’ve done well,” I remembered, “but this is a losing battle, your efforts would best be spent elsewhere from now on.”

I looked at Siaya, still unaware of her role in this cosmic game, “She still lives, I can still perform my duty.”

They paused for what seemed an eternity, as if studying the parts of me that even I knew nothing about, “Very well, do as you please, but we will not support you in your endeavor any longer,” then the frozen air thawed and they left.

The others came as they did before, three white hot points of light in the space between spaces, searing my mind, “The darkness has abandoned you, what will you do now?”

“Move on and do my duty without the help of the fallen.”

“Still just as foolish, she must die for the sake of the world.”

“She does not want to die, she doesn’t deserve to die,” the same words from a different time, only harsher now, more real.

“That is not her choice, nor is it yours.”

“We’ll see,” I called after them as they left.  I opened my eyes to the piercing sunlight and Siaya standing over me, holding out a piece of faded blue cloth.

“Here, you can have it back now,” I finally recognized it as the cloak I had given her long ago.

I eased it back to her, “No, it’s yours now,” the Dark and the Light had abandoned her and she tries to give me back a tattered cloak.  Without the Darkness or the Light there was only me.  When the war broke out eons ago I chose my sides badly, but only because both sides were equally cruel, now there was only me.  I looked up at her, and stood, “Siaya, I think you need to know the truth now.”

Fantasy · Fiction · Short Story

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